One of Contra Costa County's two BART directors, Debora Allen, has been an outspoken critic of new General Manager Bob Powers and some of her fellow directors in recent weeks. And last week's stabbing on board a train in South Hayward has pushed her to pen a scathing opinion piece in the East Bay Times.
"BART actually has many rules already in place to protect riders. What’s lacking is the will — and staffing — to enforce them," Allen writes. "Simply put, BART’s police department growth has not kept up with the expansion of the transit system because the agency directors, past and present, have not made police protection a priority."
Allen suggests that in addition to the chronic under-staffing of the BART Police Department, her fellow directors are just plain soft on crime. "Not helping matters is the fact that the political will of most of the directors is against enforcing low-level infractions and rule violations because of social equity concerns," she writes. She points to the fact that her recent proposed ordinance banning all panhandling and busking didn't pass the board. And she was similarly incensed when Powers issued a recent public apology relating to the enforcement of a law against eating food on station platforms or on trains.
That stemmed from an outcry against a video-recorded detention of a black man for eating a breakfast sandwich at Pleasant Hill Station, an enforcement action that many BART riders called out because it seemed silly given the gross amount of illegal and unsanitary behavior that goes unpunished on BART every day. Allen issued a statement saying that Powers' apology was "rather humiliating to our police force" and that the officer in question was only doing his job.
In her latest opinion piece, Allen calls a pilot program involving civilian "ambassadors" aboard trains to maintain the peace "toothless." And more pointedly, she says that such "alternative social justice programs" are only there "to dupe riders into believing BART is providing for their safety."
Arguing against Allen's rhetoric, of course, will be a beleaguered Bay Area populace that is at once disgusted and exhausted with BART being gross and unsafe, and not always trusting of the police, or BART police in particular, with good reason. BART police still haven't lived down the decade-old killing of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station, and progressive-minded people across the nation have been on high alert amidst the Black Lives Matter movement and incidents like the BBQ Becky debacle when it comes to over-policing and police misconduct.
One thing Allen doesn't mention in her op-ed is BART's intention to install new, harder-to-jump-over fare gates — something that the BART board and management say they will try to speed up doing in the wake of last week's fatal stabbing. The thinking goes that the suspect in that case, a mentally ill man who had escaped a mental health facility in San Leandro without any shoes, might not have been able to board a BART train so easily were it not for the system's notoriously porous fare gates that low-income and homeless riders rampantly leap over without consequence all the time.
The new proposed gates, which Allen did mention in a tweet to NBC Bay Area last week, would have five-foot-high panes of glass and swing open like saloon doors — much like Muni's fare gates, only taller.
Thank you @nbcbayarea for your terrific work on this story. For 3 years I have shouted “more cops, more enforcement & faregate replacement” as the answer to public safety concerns. But 5 directors keep looking for alternatives to policing & station hardening. #brokenwindows https://t.co/WwJOSEJQ4U— BART Director Debora Allen (@BartDirector) November 17, 2019